In the first chapter of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman looks at a number of “preview passages,” or verses in the Bible that paint a picture of God’s good future. For example, she lists these two on page 27:
Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves and lions will eat together. And little children will lead them around. Cows will eat with bears. Their little ones will lie down together. And lions will eat straw like oxen. A baby will play near a hole where cobras live. A young child will put his hand into a nest where poisonous snakes live. None of those animals will harm or destroy anything or anyone on my holy mountain of Zion. The oceans are full of water. In the same way, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:6, NIRV)
People from many nations will go there. They will say, “Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain. Let’s go to the house of Jacob’s God. He will teach us how we should live. Then we will live the way he wants us to.” The law of the Lord will be taught at Zion. His message will go out from Jerusalem. He will judge between people from many nations. He’ll settle problems among strong nations everywhere. They will hammer their swords into plows. They’ll hammer their spears into pruning tools. Nations will not go to war against one another. They won’t even train to fight anymore. Every man will have his own vine and fig tree. And no one will make them afraid. That’s what the Lord who rules over all has promised. Other nations worship and trust in their gods. But we will worship and obey the Lord. (Micah 2:4-5)
Throughout the chapter she lists more preview passages in her descriptions of both justice (3 elements) and peace (4 dimensions). Then in the chapter’s conclusion, Amy addresses two potential problems that she can imagine resulting from pastors preaching these “preview passages” in their congregations.
On the one hand, some parishioners might wrongly assume that they (or the church) can “just do it.” That is, they may vastly underestimate what it takes to usher in these foretastes of justice and shalom. They may fail to rely sufficiently on Jesus and the Spirit. While the preview passages permit us a big God-sized vision for our labors and our hopes, there is a danger of them encouraging Utopianism. The kingdom of justice and shalom will arrive in its fullness only at the return of the King. And only in the King’s power–and by his wisdom and guidance–will we make progress in transforming our communities. (pp. 43-44)
The issues we face are huge. And complicated. We need God’s wisdom, hope and power. Next, Amy turns to a different potential error.
On the other hand, we must not allow parishioners to believe that, because the full vision of the preview passages won’t [be] realized until the “age to come,” we don’t need to do anything now. It’s certainly true that we are waiting for the kingdom’s full consummation at Jesus’ return. But while we wait, it is the task of the church–Christ’s body–to enact and embody foretastes of the coming realities of that kingdom. We as Jesus’ disciples have the amazing privilege of participating in his work of restoration. Indeed, joining him in this work constitutes the very center of our redeemed lives. (p. 44)
So while we can’t usher in perfection with our sweat alone, we’re not off the hook. We still have very important work to do as the body of Jesus.
Craig Nessan speaks to this same reality in Shalom Church: The Body of Christ as Ministering Community (2010). Nessan states, “The call to social ministry is not about what the church should be doing in this world in response to the call of Jesus. Rather, social ministry is an expression of the very character of the church as the body of Christ” (p. 8).
- What image of Jesus does my local community get when it looks at my congregation?
- If the image is distorted in some areas, how can I work to remedy this error? What are my first three steps?
- In what ways is the image positive? Who can be thanked and encouraged for this reality?
- Which of Amy Sherman’s two problems am I personally more prone to–(a) thinking I can do it all or (b) thinking I don’t need to or can’t do anything?
- How big is my vision for what God can do and wants to do in the world through the body of the church? How does my vision affect my attitudes and actions?
NOTE: I previously wrote about Kingdom Calling here.